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J. Agric. Food Chem.

2010, 58, 6621–6629

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DOI:10.1021/jf9035832

Cellular Antioxidant Activity of Common Vegetables
WEI SONG,† CHRISTOPHER M. DERITO,† M. KESHU LIU,† XIANGJIU HE,† MEI DONG,†
,†,‡
AND RUI HAI LIU*

Department of Food Science and ‡Institute of Comparative and Environmental Toxicology,
Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853-7201

The measurement of antioxidant activity using biologically relevant assays is important to screen
fruits, vegetables, natural products, and dietary supplements for potential health benefits. The
cellular antioxidant activity (CAA) assay quantifies antioxidant activity using a cell culture model and
was developed to meet the need for a more biologically representative method than the popular
chemistry antioxidant capacity measures. The objective of the study was to determine the CAA, total
phenolic contents, and oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) values of 27 vegetables
commonly consumed in the United States. Beets, broccoli, and red pepper had the highest CAA
values, whereas cucumber had the lowest. CAA values were significantly correlated to total phenolic
content. Potatoes were found to be the largest contributors of vegetable phenolics and CAA to the
American diet. Increased fruit and vegetable consumption is an effective strategy to increase
antioxidant intake and decrease oxidative stress and may lead to reduced risk of developing chronic
diseases, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.
KEYWORDS: Vegetables; antioxidant; antioxidant activity; flavonoids; cancer; free radicals; cellular
antioxidant activity

*Address correspondence to this author at the Department
of Food Science, Stocking Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
14853-7201 [telephone (607) 255-6235; fax (607) 254-4868; e-mail
RL23@cornell.edu].

on gastric cancer risk, antioxidant activity obtained from fruit and
vegetable consumption was inversely associated with risk of gastric
cancer (10). The latest report by the Economic Research Service
described that U.S. fruit and vegetable consumption increased
between 1970 and 2005, but that Americans are still not eating
enough of these plant foods for optimum health (11). The 2005
Dietary Guidelines for Americans (12) recommends each person
eats 2 cups (four servings) of fruit and 2.5 cups (five servings) of
vegetables, based on a 2000 kcal diet, but the study found that in
2005, the average intake of fruits was only 0.9 cup and vegetable
intake was 1.7 cups per day (11).
Due to the potential of antioxidants to decrease the risk of
developing chronic diseases including cancer, cardiovascular
disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, cataracts, and age-related
functional decline, it is important to be able to measure antioxidant activity using biologically relevant assays. The cellular
antioxidant activity (CAA) assay was developed to measure the
antioxidant activity of antioxidants, dietary supplements, and
foods in cell culture (13) in response to a need for a more biologically representative method than the chemistry antioxidant
activity assays commonly used to screen antioxidant materials
for potential biological activity (14). The CAA assay utilizes 20 ,70 dichlorofluorescin diacetate (DCFH-DA) as a probe in cultured
human HepG2 liver cancer cells (13). Nonpolar DCFH-DA is
taken up by HepG2 cells by passive diffusion and deacetylated by
cellular esterases to form polar 20 ,70 -dichlorofluorescin (DCFH),
which is trapped within the cells. Peroxyl radicals generated from
2,20 -azobis(2-amidinopropane) (ABAP) lead to the oxidation of
DCFH to form a fluorescent compound dichlorofluorescein
(DCF). The level of fluorescence formed within the cells is

© 2010 American Chemical Society

Published on Web 05/12/2010

INTRODUCTION

Free radicals are reactive molecules with unpaired electrons
that are able to exist independently. Endogenous metabolic
processes, especially in chronic inflammations, are one of the
important sources of free radicals (1). Free radicals can react with
and damage all types of biomolecules - lipids, proteins, carbohydrates, and DNA (2). If damaged DNA is left unrepaired and
the mutated cell gains the ability to survive and divide aberrantly,
it may become cancerous. Thus, an increase in the consumption of
dietary antioxidants, which can scavenge free radicals, may be a
strategy to prevent free radical-induced damage to biomolecules
of lipids, proteins, and DNA, including LDL oxidation and cancer
cell initiation, an important beginning stage of carcinogenesis.
Doll and Peto (3) proposed that diet is responsible for about onethird of cancer incidence. Several studies have linked the consumption of fruits and vegetables to a reduced risk of cancer (4-7).
Higher fruit intake in childhood has also been related to lower adult
cancer risk (8). Fruits and vegetables are rich in bioactive compounds such as flavonoids, phenolic acids, stilbenes, coumarins,
and tannins (9). The combined phytochemicals in plant foods have
a wide variety of mechanisms of action, including antioxidant
activity and quenching free radicals, regulation of cell cycle, effects
on oncogene and tumor suppressor gene expression, apoptosis,
detoxifying enzyme activity, immunity, metabolism, and infection (9). In a study that evaluated the effect of antioxidant activity

pubs.acs.org/JAFC

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Figure 1. Total phenolic content of selected vegetables (mean ( SD, n = 3). Bars with no letters in common are significantly different (p < 0.05).

proportional to the level of oxidation. Pure phytochemical
compounds, antioxidants, and fruit extracts quench peroxyl
radicals and inhibit the generation of fluorescent DCF. The
decrease in cellular fluorescence compared to the control cells
indicates the antioxidant capacity of the compounds (13, 15, 16).
The antioxidant activity of vegetables has been surveyed using
the oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) assay, the total
oxyradical scavenging capacity (TOSC) assay, the ferric reducing/
antioxidant power (FRAP) assay, the Trolox equivalent antioxidant capacity (TEAC) assay, and the total radical-trapping
antioxidant parameter (TRAP) assay (17-21). The CAAs of a
wide variety of fruits have been reported (13,16), but the CAAs of
vegetables have not been measured.
The objective of this study was to determine the cellular
antioxidant activity of 27 commonly consumed vegetables in
the United States using the CAA assay. The total phenolic
content and ORAC values of the vegetables were also measured
to determine if they could be used to predict CAA values. The
antioxidant quality of the vegetables in the CAA assay and their
individual contributions to the antioxidant activity of vegetables
in the American diet were also calculated.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Reagents. DCFH-DA, fluorescein disodium salt, 6-hydroxy-2,5,7,8tetramethylchoman-2-carboxylic acid (Trolox), Folin-Ciocalteu reagent,
and quercetin dehydrate were purchased from Sigma-Aldrich, Inc.
(St. Louis, MO). ABAP was purchased from Wako Chemicals USA,
Inc. (Richmond, VA). Dimethyl sulfoxide was obtained from Fisher
Scientific (Pittsburgh, PA), and gallic acid was purchased from ICN
Biomedical Inc. (Costa Mesa, CA). Phosphate-buffered saline (PBS),
sodium carbonate, methanol, acetone, and potassium phosphate were
purchased from Mallinckrodt Baker, Inc. (Phillipsburg, NJ). HepG2
human liver cancer cells were obtained from the American Type Culture
Collection (ATCC) (Rockville, MD). Williams’ Medium E (WME) and
Hanks’ Balanced Salt Solution (HBSS) were purchased from Gibco Life
Technologies (Grand Island, NY). Fetal bovine serum (FBS) was
obtained from Atlanta Biologicals (Lawrenceville, GA).
Preparation of Vegetable Extracts. Vegetables were purchased
from a local supermarket (Ithaca, NY). Vegetable phytochemical
extracts were prepared from the edible portions of vegetables using a
modified method, as reported previously (18, 22, 23). Briefly, in
triplicate, fresh vegetable samples were blended in a Waring blender
using chilled 80% acetone (1:2, w/v) for 5 min. Samples were then
homogenized with a Polytron homogenizer for 3 min. The vegetable

slurries were filtered (Whatman no. 1) and washed twice with 10 mL of the
acetone solution, and the filtrates were evaporated to dryness using a
rotary evaporator at 45 °C. The extracts were reconstituted in 70%
methanol and stored at -40 °C. Before use, the methanol was evaporated
under a stream of nitrogen, and the extracts were reconstituted in water.
Control extracts were prepared using the same extraction solvents and
procedures without vegetables.
Preparation of Solutions. A 200 mM stock solution of DCFH-DA
in methanol was prepared, aliquoted, and stored at -20 °C until use. A
200 mM ABAP stock solution in water was prepared, aliquoted, and
stored at -40 °C until use. Quercetin solutions were prepared in dimethyl
sulfoxide before further dilution in treatment medium (WME with 2 mM
L-glutamine and 10 mM Hepes).
Cell Culture. HepG2 cells were grown in Complete Medium (WME
supplemented with 5% FBS, 10 mM Hepes, 2 mM L-glutamine, 5 μg/mL
insulin, 0.05 μg/mL hydrocortisone, 50 units/mL penicillin, 50 μg/mL
streptomycin, and 100 μg/mL gentamycin) and were maintained at 37 °C
and 5% CO2 as described previously (24, 25). Cells used in this study were
between passages 12 and 32.
Cytotoxicity. The cytotoxicity of each vegetable toward HepG2 cells
was measured, as described previously (26, 27). The median cytotoxic
concentration (CC50) was calculated for each vegetable.
CAA of Vegetable Extracts. The CAA of vegetable extracts was
determined using the protocol described previously by our laboratory (13, 16).
Briefly, HepG2 cells were seeded at a density of 6  104/well on a 96-well
microplate in 100 μL of Complete Medium/well. Twenty-four hours after
seeding, the growth medium was removed, and the wells were washed with
100 μL of PBS. Wells were then treated with 100 μL of treatment medium
containing solvent control, control extracts, or tested vegetable extracts
plus 25 μM DCFH-DA for 1 h. When a PBS wash was utilized, wells were
washed with 100 μL of PBS. Then 600 μM ABAP was applied to the cells in
100 μL of oxidant treatment medium (HBSS with 10 mM Hepes), and the
96-well microplate was placed into a Fluoroskan Ascent FL plate reader
at 37 °C. Emission at 538 nm was measured after excitation at 485 nm
every 5 min for 1 h.
Quantification of CAA. After blank subtraction and subtraction of
the initial fluorescence values, the area under the curve for fluorescence
versus time was integrated to calculate the CAA value at each concentration of vegetable as (13, 16) 
Z 

Z
CAA unit ¼ 1 SA= CA
R
where SARis the integrated area under the sample fluorescence versus time
curve and CA is the integrated area from the control curve. The median
effective dose (EC50) was determined for the vegetable extracts from the
median effect plot of log(fa/fu) versus log(dose), where fa is the fraction

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Figure 2. ORAC values of selected vegetables (mean ( SD, n = 3). Bars with no letters in common are significantly different (p < 0.05).
Table 1. Cellular Antioxidant Activities of Selected Vegetables Expressed as EC50 and CAA Values (Mean ( SD, n = 3)
no PBS wash

PBS wash

cytotoxicity

vegetable

EC50 (mg/mL)

CAA (μmol of QE/100 g)

EC50 (mg/mL)

CAA (μmol of QE/100 g)

CC50 (mg/mL)

beet
red pepper
eggplant
Brussels sprout
broccoli
cabbage
mushroom
asparagus
green pepper
cauliflower
spinach
carrot
chili pepper
sweet potato
radish
yellow onion
lettuce
potato
white onion
squash
celery
sweet corn
romaine lettuce
green pea
green bean
tomato
cucumber

19.3 ( 4.1
19.2 ( 0.9
21.0 ( 1.3
22.7 ( 2.3
26.3 ( 2.7
71.0 ( 8.1
52.7 ( 1.6
63.1 ( 1.5
64.9 ( 6.8
38.2 ( 4.5
79.5 ( 4.6
81.5 ( 3.4
90.8 ( 7.2
93.2 ( 7.0
108 ( 2
125 ( 2
157 ( 10
169 ( 22
234 ( 21
239 ( 15
262 ( 8
173 ( 18
331 ( 6
396 ( 25
522 ( 27
nq
1265 ( 39

41.9 ( 6.2
41.4 ( 1.8
37.9 ( 2.4
35.3 ( 3.6
30.4 ( 3.0
21.0 ( 2.4
15.1 ( 0.4
12.6 ( 0.3
12.3 ( 1.4
11.3 ( 1.3
10.0 ( 0.6
9.77 ( 0.40
8.80 ( 0.71
8.56 ( 0.64
7.35 ( 0.13
6.40 ( 0.12
5.07 ( 0.33
4.76 ( 0.63
3.42 ( 0.32
3.33 ( 0.21
3.03 ( 0.09
4.62 ( 0.50
2.40 ( 0.05
2.01 ( 0.12
1.53 ( 0.08

134 ( 10
138 ( 6
148 ( 16
160 ( 34
115 ( 15
221 ( 20
182 ( 5
148 ( 15
230 ( 16
726 ( 53
281 ( 59
126 ( 145
356 ( 40
362 ( 34
555 ( 70
219 ( 2
231 ( 6
460 ( 7
492 ( 47
477 ( 47
465 ( 14
359 ( 65
800 ( 88
558 ( 41
nqa
690 ( 2
nq

4.78 ( 0.38
4.64 ( 0.19
4.35 ( 0.48
4.15 ( 0.98
5.61 ( 0.68
2.90 ( 0.25
3.52 ( 0.11
4.35 ( 0.45
2.79 ( 0.20
0.88 ( 0.06
2.90 ( 0.54
5.13 ( 0.58
1.81 ( 0.21
1.78 ( 0.16
1.16 ( 0.15
2.92 ( 0.03
2.77 ( 0.07
1.39 ( 0.02
1.31 ( 0.12
1.35 ( 0.13
1.71 ( 0.05
1.82 ( 0.37
0.80 ( 0.09
1.15 ( 0.09

>150
>150
>150
>150
>150
>150
>150
>150
>150
>150
>150
>150
>150
>150
>150
>150
>150
>150
>150
>150
>150
>150
>150
>150
>150
>150
>150

a

0.63 ( 0.02

0.93 ( 0.01

nq, EC50 is not quantifiable due to low activity.

affected (CAA unit) and fu is the fraction unaffected (1 - CAA unit) by the
treatment. The EC50 values were stated as mean ( SD for triplicate sets of
data obtained from the same experiment. EC50 values were converted to
CAA values, which are expressed as micromoles of quercetin equivalents
(QE) per 100 g of fresh vegetable, using the mean EC50 value for quercetin
from five separate experiments.
Determination of Total Phenolic Content. The total phenolic
contents of the vegetables were measured using the Folin-Ciocalteu
colorimetric method (28), as modified by our laboratory (29, 30). Volumes
of 0.5 mL of deionized water and 0.125 mL of diluted vegetable extracts
were added to a test tube. Folin-Ciocalteu reagent (0.125 mL) was added

to the solution and allowed to react for 6 min. Then, 1.25 mL of 7%
sodium carbonate solution was aliquoted into the test tubes, and the
mixture was diluted to 3 mL with deionized water. The color was
developed for 90 min, and the absorbance was read at 760 nm using a
MRX II Dynex spectrophotometer (Dynex Technologies, Inc., Chantilly,
VA). The measurement was compared to a standard curve of gallic acid
concentrations and expressed as milligrams of gallic acid equivalents
(GAE) per 100 g of fresh vegetable ( SD for triplicate vegetable extracts.
Measurement of Total Antioxidant Activity. The total antioxidant
activity of selected vegetables was measured using the oxygen radical
scavenging capacity (ORAC) assay (31) as modified in our laboratory (15).

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Figure 3. CAA values of selected vegetables in the (A) no PBS wash protocol and (B) PBS wash protocol (mean ( SD, n = 3). Bars with no letters in common
are significantly different (p < 0.05).
Briefly, 20 μL of blank, Trolox standard, or vegetable extracts in 75 mM
potassium phosphate buffer, pH 7.4 (working buffer), was added to
triplicate wells in a black, clear-bottom, 96-well microplate. A volume of
200 μL of 0.96 μM fluorescein (in working buffer) was added to each well
and incubated at 37 °C for 20 min, with intermittent shaking, before the
addition of 20 μL of freshly prepared 119 mM ABAP in working buffer
using a 12-channel pipetter. The microplate was immediately inserted into a
Fluoroskan Ascent FL plate reader (ThermoLabsystems) at 37 °C. The
decay of fluorescence at 538 nm was measured with excitation at 485 nm
every 4.5 min for 2.5 h. The areas under the fluorescence versus time curve
for the samples minus the area under the curve for the blank were calculated
and compared to a standard curve of the areas under the curve for 6.25, 12.5,
25, and 50 μM Trolox standards minus the area under the curve for blank.
ORAC values were expressed as mean micromoles of Trolox equivalents
(TE) per 100 g of vegetable ( SD for triplicate data from one experiment.
Statistical Analyses. All results are presented as mean ( SD, and
statistical analyses were performed using Minitab 15 (Minitab Inc., State
College, PA). Differences between means were detected by ANOVA,
followed by multiple comparisons using Tukey’s least significant difference

test. ANOVA was performed on log-transformed total phenolic, ORAC,
and CAA values because the assumptions of normally distributed residuals
and equal variances were not met by the untransformed data. Correlations
were determined using linear regression on log-transformed data. The
differences between mean EC50 values for CAA, comparing the results
from the no PBS wash and PBS wash protocols, were evaluated using a
two-tailed paired Student’s t test. The determination of the differences
between cellular antioxidant quality for each vegetable was performed
using a paired Student’s t test on normalized [(antioxidant quality - mean
antioxidant quality)/standard deviation for antioxidant qualities in
protocol] values for those vegetables with activity in both the no PBS
wash and PBS wash protocols. Normalization was necessary because
the two values could not be compared directly. For those vegetables
with no activity in the PBS wash protocol, the difference between the
cellular antioxidant quality in the no PBS wash protocol and zero was
determined using a one-way Student’s t test. Interaction between the
vegetable and the protocol in cellular antioxidant quality was assessed
by two-way ANOVA of the normalized antioxidant qualities. Results
were considered to be significant when the p value was <0.05.

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J. Agric. Food Chem., Vol. 58, No. 11, 2010

Table 2. Cellular Antioxidant Quality of Vegetable Phenolics in the Cellular
Antioxidant Activity Assay (Mean ( SD, n = 3)

Table 3. Total Phenolic Content and ORAC Values of Selected Vegetables
(Mean ( SD, n = 3)

cellular antioxidant qualitya (μmol of QE/100 μmol of phenolics)
vegetable

no PBS wash

PBS wash

cabbage
eggplant
mushroom
lettuce
Brussels sprout
carrot
beet
red pepper
sweet potato
broccoli
cauliflower
celery
chili pepper
romaine
potato
green pepper
radish
asparagus
white onion
squash
yellow onion
green bean
green pea
sweet corn
spinach
cucumber
tomato

7.44 ( 0.98 a
7.38 ( 0.47 b
6.6 ( 0.19 c
6.52 ( 0.42 c
5.52 ( 0.57 d
5.38 ( 0.22 d
5.45 ( 0.81 d
5.09 ( 0.22 de
4.66 ( 0.35 e
4.11 ( 0.4 f
4.01 ( 0.47 f
3.78 ( 0.11 fg
3.77 ( 0.31 fg
3.74 ( 0.07 fgh
3.34 ( 0.45 ghi
3.15 ( 0.35 hij
2.97 ( 0.05 ijk
2.6 ( 0.07 jkl
2.45 ( 0.23 klm
2.37 ( 0.15 lm
2.08 ( 0.04 lm
1.87 ( 0.1 mn
1.61 ( 0.1 no
1.59 ( 0.12 no
1.13 ( 0.07 o
1.1 ( 0.03 o
nq

1.11 ( 0.1 efg
0.85 ( 0.09 fghij
1.54 ( 0.05 d
3.56 ( 0.09 a
0.65 ( 0.16 hijkl
2.82 ( 0.32 b
0.62 ( 0.05 ijkl
0.57 ( 0.02 ijk
0.97 ( 0.9 efgh
0.76 ( 0.09 hijk
0.31 ( 0.02 ghijk
2.13 ( 0.06 c
0.78 ( 0.09 ghijk
1.25 ( 0.15 de
0.97 ( 0.01 efgh
0.71 ( 0.05 jkl
0.47 ( 0.06 kl
0.90 ( 0.09 fghij
0.94 ( 0.09 efghi
0.96 ( 0.09 efgh
0.95 ( 0.01 efghi
nq
0.92 ( 0.07 efghi
1.16 ( 0.24 ef
0.33 ( 0.06l
nq
0.77 ( 0.01 ghijk

a
Values in each column with no letters in common are significantly different
(p < 0.05).

RESULTS

Total Phenolic Content. The total phenolic content of selected
vegetables (Figure 1) was determined from their extracts using the
Folin-Ciocalteu method. Of the vegetables tested, spinach had
the highest total phenolic content (151 ( 7 mg of GAE/100 g),
followed by red pepper, beet, and broccoli (138 ( 10, 131 ( 3, and
126 ( 3 mg of GAE/100 g, respectively), Brussels sprout (109 (
1 mg of GAE/100 g), eggplant and asparagus (87.4 ( 1.3 and 82.5 (
0.7 mg of GAE/100 g, respectively), and green pepper (66.7 (
2.1 mg of GAE/100 g). There was no significant difference
between yellow onion (52.1 ( 1.0 mg of GAE/100 g), cauliflower
(48.0 ( 0.7 mg of GAE/100 g), and cabbage (44.6 ( 0.7 mg of
GAE/100 g). The total phenolic contents of radish (42.1 ( 0.4 mg
of GAE/100 g), chili pepper (39.7 ( 0.4 mg of GAE/100 g),
mushroom (38.9 ( 0.3 mg of GAE/100 g), and sweet potato (31.3 (
0.6 mg of GAE/100 g) were also not significantly different from
each other. The remaining vegetables in order of total phenolic
content were carrot (30.9 ( 1.7 mg of GAE/100 g), sweet corn
(26.7 ( 0.4 mg of GAE/100 g), potato (24.2 ( 1.8 mg of GAE/100 g),
squash (23.8 ( 0.2 mg of GAE/100 g), white onion (23.7 ( 1.0 mg
of GAE/100 g), green pea (21.3 ( 0.5 mg of GAE/100 g), tomato
(20.4 ( 0.6 mg of GAE/100 g), green bean (13.9 ( 0.1 mg of GAE/
100 g), celery (13.6 ( 1.0 mg of GAE/100 g), lettuce (13.2 ( 1.3 mg of
GAE/100 g), romaine lettuce (10.9 ( 0.1 mg of GAE/100 g), and
cucumber (9.7 ( 0.4 mg of GAE/100 g).
Total Antioxidant Activity. The total antioxidant activities of the
selected vegetables (Figure 2) were evaluated using the ORAC
assay. Spinach had the greatest peroxyl radical scavenging ability in
this method, with an ORAC value of 2605 ( 498 μmol of TE/100 g
of vegetable. The next highest ORAC values were obtained from
beet (1909 ( 203 μmol of TE/100 g), asparagus (1879 ( 46 μmol of
TE/100 g), Brussels sprout (1859 ( 97 μmol of TE/100 g), eggplant

6625

vegetable

total phenolics (mg of GAE/100 g
of vegetable)

ORAC (μmol of TE/100 g
of vegetable)

spinach
beet
asparagus
Brussels sprout
eggplant
broccoli
radish
cabbage
squash
sweet corn
mushroom
red pepper
yellow onion
sweet potato
cauliflower
carrot
green pea
green pepper
white onion
potato
tomato
chili pepper
celery
green bean
romaine lettuce
lettuce
cucumber

151 ( 7
131 ( 3
82.5 ( 0.7
109 ( 1
87.4 ( 1.3
126 ( 3
42.1 ( 0.4
44.6 ( 0.7
23.8 ( 0.2
26.7 ( 0.4
38.9 ( 0.3
138 ( 10
52.1 ( 1.0
31.3 ( 0.6
48.0 ( 0.7
30.9 ( 1.7
21.3 ( 0.5
66.7 ( 2.1
23.7 ( 1.0
24.2 ( 1.8
20.6 ( 0.6
39.7 ( 0.4
13.6 ( 1.0
13.9 ( 0.1
10.9 ( 0.1
13.2 ( 1.3
9.7 ( 0.4

2605 ( 498
1909 ( 203
1879 ( 46
1859 ( 97
1755 ( 118
1631 ( 252
1442 ( 593
1359 ( 113
1107 ( 101
962 ( 112
941 ( 150
802 ( 110
736 ( 256
732 ( 149
700 ( 100
677 ( 109
619 ( 72
404 ( 102
404 ( 102
397 ( 152
271 ( 44
234 ( 84
223 ( 50
219 ( 23
210 ( 15
202 ( 76
152 ( 4

(1755 ( 118 μmol of TE/100 g), broccoli (1631 ( 252 μmol of
TE/100 g), and radish (1442 ( 593 μmol of TE/100 g of
vegetable), which were similar (p > 0.05), followed by cabbage
(1359 ( 113 μmol of TE/100 g), squash (1107 ( 101 μmol of
TE/100 g), sweet corn (962 ( 112 μmol of TE/100 g), mushroom
(941 ( 150 μmol of TE/100 g), yellow onion (736 ( 256 μmol of
TE/100 g), sweet potato (732 ( 149 μmol of TE/100 g), and
cauliflower (700 ( 100 μmol of TE/100 g). The other vegetables
had ORAC values of 619 ( 72 μmol of TE/100 g (green pea),
404 ( 102 (white onion), 397 ( 152 (potato), 271 ( 44 (tomato),
234 ( 84 (chili pepper), 223 ( 50 (celery), and 202 ( 76 (lettuce).
With a few exceptions, our ORAC data for vegetables correspond
well to those reported by the USDA (32): only cabbage and
squash tested in our study had higher ORAC values.
Cellular Antioxidant Activity. The CAAs of selected vegetables
were measured using the CAA assay. The EC50 and CAA values
for the vegetables, along with their median cytotoxicity doses, are
listed in Table 1. The cellular antioxidant activities were measured
using two protocols (PBS wash and no PBS wash), as described
previously (13).
The CAA values for the vegetables in the no PBS wash protocol
are shown in Figure 3A and Table 1. Beet, red pepper, eggplant,
Brussels sprout, and broccoli had the highest CAA values (41.9 (
6.2, 41.4 ( 1.8, 37.9 ( 2.4, 35.3 ( 3.6, and 30.4 ( 3.0 μmol of QE/
100 g of vegetable, respectively), followed by cabbage (21.0 (
2.4 μmol of QE/100 g), mushroom (15.1 ( 0.4 μmol of QE/100 g),
and asparagus (12.6 ( 0.3 μmol of QE/100 g). These were followed
by green pepper, cauliflower, spinach, carrot, chili pepper, sweet
potato, radish, yellow onion, lettuce, potato, sweet corn, white
onion, squash, celery, romaine lettuce, green pea, green bean, and
cucumber. The CAA values for these 18 vegetables were not
significantly different from each other. Tomato did not have
quantifiable activity with the no PBS wash protocol.
In the PBS wash protocol, broccoli, carrot, beet, and red
pepper had the greatest cellular antioxidant activity, with CAA

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Song et al.

Figure 4. Contribution of total phenolics from selected vegetables as a percent of total phenolics from all vegetables consumed by Americans.

values of 5.61 ( 0.68, 5.13 ( 0.58, 4.78 ( 0.38, and 4.64 ( 0.19 μmol
of QE/100 g of vegetable, respectively (Figure 3B; Table 1), followed
by asparagus, eggplant, Brussels sprout, mushroom, yellow onion,
spinach, cabbage, green pepper, lettuce, sweet corn, and chili
pepper. The rest of the common vegetables (celery, sweet potato,
potato, white onion, radish, green pea, tomato, cauliflower, and
romaine lettuce) had lower CAA values. The CAA values of green
bean and cucumber could not be quantified due to their low
activities in the PBS wash protocol.
Correlation Analyses. Using regression analyses, the relationships between total phenolic content, ORAC value, and CAA
values for the vegetables were determined. Total phenolics were
significantly correlated to ORAC values (R2 = 0.603, p < 0.05) and
CAA values from the no PBS wash protocol (R2 = 0.645, p < 0.05)
and PBS wash protocols (R2 = 0.493, p < 0.05). ORAC values for
vegetables were not significantly positively related to CAA values
(R2 = 0.343, p > 0.05 for no PBS wash protocol; R2 = 0.293, p >
0.05 for PBS wash protocol).
Cellular Antioxidant Quality. The cellular antioxidant quality
(Table 2) of the phytochemical extracts was determined for the
vegetables from their CAA values and total phenolic contents
(Table 3). This is a measurement of the cellular antioxidant
activity, in quercetin equivalents, per 100 μmol of phenolic
compounds present in the vegetable and was described previously (13). The cellular antioxidant quality from the vegetables
in the no PBS protocol ranged from 1.1 ( 0.03 (cucumber) to 7.44 (
0.98 (cabbage) μmol of QE/100 μmol of phenolics. Cabbage was
followed by eggplant, mushroom, lettuce, Brussels sprout, carrot,
beet, red pepper, sweet potato, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, chili
pepper, romaine lettuce, potato, green pepper, radish, asparagus,
white onion, squash, yellow onion, green bean, green pea, sweet
corn, spinach, cucumber, and tomato. The range of antioxidant
qualities in the PBS wash protocol was from 0.31 ( 0.02
(cauliflower) to 3.56 ( 0.09 (lettuce) μmol of QE/100 μmol of
phenolics. The remaining vegetables, in order of highest to lowest

cellular antioxidant quality in the PBS wash protocol, were
carrot, celery, mushroom, romaine lettuce, sweet corn, cabbage,
sweet potato, potato, squash, yellow onion, white onion, green
pea, asparagus, eggplant, chili pepper, tomato, broccoli, green
pepper, Brussels sprout, beet, red pepper, radish, and spinach.
Contribution of Vegetables to Dietary Phenolics and Cellular
Antioxidant Activity. The contribution of the selected vegetables
to the total phenolics and CAA in the United States from all
vegetables in the American diet was calculated from consumption
data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Availability
(Per Capita) Data for 2008 (33). Loss-adjusted food availability
data for fresh, canned, frozen, dried, and juice were used, which
are adjusted for nonedible vegetable parts and losses due to waste,
spoilage, and other factors. The top 10 phenolic contributors
expressed as a percentage of the total phenolic contribution from
vegetables in the American diet are shown in Figure 4. Potatoes
were the largest supplier of vegetable phenolics to the population
(24.8%), followed by tomato (15.0%), broccoli (10.5%), onion
(7.9%), and green pepper (5%). Carrot, sweet corn, cabbage, chili
pepper, and spinach were also among the top 10 contributors.
From the no PBS wash protocol data (Figure 5A), the greatest
cellular antioxidant activity contributors were potato (26.8),
broccoli (14.0%), carrot (8.1%), lettuce (6.7%), and cabbage
(6.4%), followed by onion, green pepper, mushroom, sweet corn,
and chili pepper. From the PBS wash protocol data (Figure 5B),
the contribution of the selected vegetables to cellular antioxidant
activity was similar to the phenolic contribution, with potato
(23%), carrot (12.5%), tomato (11.3%), lettuce (10.8%), and
broccoli (7.6%) providing the most CAA to the American diet
and with onion, sweet corn, cabbage, green pepper, and mushroom rounding out the top 10 contributors.
DISCUSSION

The CAA assay was developed to provide a biologically
relevant means of quantifying the antioxidant activity of pure

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J. Agric. Food Chem., Vol. 58, No. 11, 2010

6627

Figure 5. Contribution of CAA from the (A) no PBS wash protocol and (B) PBS wash protocol from selected vegetables as a percent of total CAA from all
vegetables consumed by Americans.

compounds, dietary supplements, and foods in cell culture (13).
The CAA assay is an improvement over the traditional chemistrybased antioxidant activity assays (ORAC, TOSC, FRAP, TEAC,
TRAP) because it mimics some of the cellular processes that
occur in vivo. The CAA assay takes into account some aspects of
cell uptake, metabolism, and distribution of bioactive compounds, which are important modulators of bioactivity (34).
Therefore, the CAA assay may provide a better prediction of

antioxidant behavior in biological systems. A recent study in our
laboratory demonstrated the robust nature of the CAA assay by
using it to compare the antioxidant activities of 25 fruits consumed in the United States (16). In the present study, 27
vegetables were evaluated using both the CAA assay and the
ORAC assay. The resulting data were then compared to the total
phenolic content of each vegetable. Of the vegetables tested, beet,
red pepper, and broccoli were consistently among the top five

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J. Agric. Food Chem., Vol. 58, No. 11, 2010

when analyzed by the CAA and ORAC assays (Figures 2 and 3)
and were also among the highest with respect to total phenolic
content (Figure 1). These results are consistent with other studies
that have reported high antioxidant activities of these three
vegetables (18, 20, 35-37). Despite having the highest total
phenolic content and ORAC value, spinach did not rank highly
in CAA assay, ranking 10th in the PBS wash protocol and 11th in
the no PBS wash protocol. Cucumber had the lowest phenolic
content, and its CAA value could not be quantified in the PBS
wash protocol.
The CAA values for vegetables were positively related to total
phenolic content when log-transformed data were analyzed (p <
0.05). The correlation coefficients for CAA values and total
phenolics for vegetables were R2 = 0.645 (p < 0.05) for the no
PBS wash protocol and R2 = 0.493 (p < 0.05) for the PBS wash
protocol. Compared with vegetable extracts, there is a more
significant positive relationship between the CAA values and
total phenolic content for fruits (p < 0.05) (16). Generally, the
vegetables tested showed lower activities and higher EC50 values
with the PBS wash protocol compared to the results from the no
PBS wash protocol.
Cellular antioxidant quality is a measure of the cellular antioxidant activity provided by 100 μmol of phenolics found in the
vegetable, so it gives a measure of the relative potency of the
antioxidants present. An index of antioxidant quality, expressed
as phenolic content/IC50 for inhibition of lipoprotein oxidation,
has also been used by Vinson et al. (38) to assess fruits. For all
vegetables examined in our study, the antioxidant quality was
lower and the EC50 value was higher in the PBS wash protocol
compared to results from the no PBS wash protocol (Table 2). This
could be attributed to the quercetin standard’s aberrant behavior
of having higher activity and a lower EC50 value in the PBS wash
protocol compared to the no PBS wash protocol (13, 16).
The contribution of vegetables toward the total phenolics in
the American diet was estimated from our total phenolic measurements and per capita loss-adjusted food availability data for
the United States (33). Despite having low phenolic contents,
potato and tomato were the largest contributors to total phenolics
in the American diet (Figure 4). This is due to the high per capita
consumption of these two vegetables. Other substantial contributors to phenolic intake were broccoli, onion, green pepper,
carrot, sweet corn, cabbage, chili pepper, and spinach. Romaine
lettuce and lettuce did not rank in the top 10 because of their low
phenolic content, despite their high consumption.
Contribution of CAA activity from vegetables in the American
diet was also discussed. Potato, broccoli, carrot, lettuce, cabbage,
onion, green pepper, mushroom, sweet corn, and chili pepper
were the top providers of CAA when assessed using the no PBS
wash protocol (Figure 5A). Potato, carrot, tomato, and lettuce
were the highest contributors when assessed using the PBS wash
protocol (Figure 5B). Although its antioxidant activity is low,
potato ranked high in contribution of total phenolics, CAA, and
ORAC due to its high consumption in the American diet.
This study shows the cellular antioxidant activity of 27
common vegetables. Beet, broccoli, and red pepper demonstrated
the highest cellular antioxidant activity, whereas cucumber had
the lowest activity. CAA values were significantly correlated with
total phenolic content (p < 0.05), whereas ORAC values for
vegetables were not significantly positively related to CAA values.
Potatoes were the largest contributor of total phenolics and CAA
in the American diet. Antioxidant activity provided by vegetables
may be important in the prevention of cancer and other chronic
diseases. Measuring the antioxidant activity of vegetables in cell
culture is an important step in screening for potential bioactivity
and is more biologically representative than data obtained from

Song et al.
chemistry antioxidant activity assays. Among the vegetables
tested, some had significant biological effects in this assay,
warranting further testing in more specific cellular models.
Further testing is needed to confirm the relationship between
CAA values for vegetables and their modulation of oxidative
stress markers in vivo.
ABBREVIATIONS USED

ABAP, 2,20 -azobis(2-amidinopropane) dihydrochloride; CAA,
cellular antioxidant activity; DCFH, 20 ,70 -dichlorofluorescin;
DCFH-DA, 20 ,70 -dichlorofluorescin diacetate; FRAP, ferric
reducing/antioxidant power; ORAC, oxygen radical absorbance
capacity; QE, quercetin equivalents; TE, Trolox equivalents;
TEAC, Trolox equivalent antioxidant capacity; TRAP, total
radical-scavenging antioxidant parameter.
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Received for review October 13, 2009. Revised manuscript received
March 24, 2010. Accepted March 31, 2010.